Monday, June 29, 2009

Sunday Dinner, revisited

Last year, when Jake and I started dating, we started a Sunday dinner tradition. The tradition involved finding a new recipe that we wanted to try, gathering ingredients, and putting the meal together with chaotic precision. The tradition has since expanded to include a new bread recipe, which I bake on Sunday afternoons, and fresh, local, in-season vegetables. Now, instead of planning our dinner around the recipe, I plan our meal around what ingredients are available in my garden and at the farmer's market.

So, to celebrate the beginning of my summer vacation, we had Sunday dinner on my patio with several close friends. I started preparing dinner at about 1pm. The menu included: summer squash soup with salsa verde (featuring lots of fresh herbs from my garden, especially oregano), whole wheat crust pizzas with farmer's market cherry tomatoes soaked in balsamic vinegar, fresh salad from the garden, and rhubarb crisp for dessert. I made rosemary focaccia with coarse salt from the Kneadlessly Simple bread cookbook. I also made a loaf of whole wheat bread to make sandwiches for our upcoming road trip to Montana on Wednesday. Overall, the dinner was pretty tasty and the company was delightful.

On another note, I pulled my first carrot from the ground (bucket, actually). I tried to grow carrots a few years ago with little success. As you can see by the picture, I did pretty well this time. The container gave them lots of root space to grow. Also, my sugar snap peas started to grow. We ate a bunch of them right off the vine after Sunday dinner. It couldn't have ended in a better way.

Finally, now that I have time off, I've been plowing through the book I've been trying to read for months, The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. Last night while I was reading, I came across a passage where Pollan talks about the "local food shopper" and it described what I have experienced exactly. He said,
The local food shopper will need to put some work into sourcing his food.And then he will have to become reacquainted with his kitchen... a successful local food economy implies not only a new kind of food producer, but a new kind of eater as well, one who regards finding, preparing, and preserving food as one of the pleasures of life rather than a chore.
Enough said. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Happy Solstice!

Well folks, summer is officially here and it's starting to show in my garden. Things are growing like crazy. I've even got some budding green tomatoes...stay tuned.

This weekend, I brought in summer with a bang with the help of my amazing friends and family. My bff, Radhi, and her boyfriend, David, came to visit from Atlanta and boy, did I have a time with them. On Friday, we made a delicious dinner in their honor with lots of yummy veggies from the farmer's market and from my garden, of course. There were a couple of highlights from the dinner that I'd like to mention. First, I made yet another Kneadlessly Simple bread recipe. This one was called easy four-grain pot boule. It had an amazingly yummy, crunchy crust, but was chewy and moist on the inside. I also made a new recipe from one of my favorites, Heidi Swanson. I made the recipe for zucchini and potato gratin (sans cheese and bread crumbs though - didn't have those) with fresh oregano from the garden. It was delicious even without the cheese and bread crumbs, although I think the crunchy bread crumb topping would make it even better. I don't think it needs as much olive oil as it calls for - maybe 1/4 c. instead of 1/2. 

Finally, for that dinner and again during our Father's Day bbq, I made a salad using greens from my garden. But what made it even better was sprinkling bright red nasturtiums on top as a garnish. I just discovered these edible flowers this year and I'm hooked. Not only do they look lovely in the yard, they look fabulous in the salad and taste pretty good too. 

Now, I'm just counting down the hours until I get out of school for my real summer. My garden is one of the only things on my agenda this summer and I can't wait for it to begin. Happy Summer!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

You know it's almost summer when...

1. You know it's almost summer when your Bright Lights Swiss Chard is growing like gang busters. I have a special place in my heart for home-grown Swiss chard. Three years ago, when I was just experimenting with growing vegetables, I grew some Swiss chard. I will never forget how amazing it tasted, the first time I sauteed some fresh picked chard. I couldn't believe that a vegetable could taste that good. Oh, but I haven't always liked Swiss chard. Yes, I have strong childhood memories of being at my grandpa's house in Spokane (he always had an amazing garden with tons of veggies), being coerced to try some Swiss chard. I stubbornly turned my nose up at it countless times. I can still here my grandpa asking me, "Don't you want your Swiss chard?" And my answer was always NO! All I can say is that I'm so glad I finally saw the light. Swiss chard, especially the aesthetically pleasing rainbow chard variety, is super tasty and good for you too. Last night, I picked a big bunch of Swiss chard, cut it up into ribbons (stems too), sauteed it in olive oil, and then tossed it in a lactose-free quiche. I did a little google search a while ago for a lactose-free quiche and this recipe is pretty delicious and easy to make. I made the crust with whole spelt flour since we're currently experimenting with non-wheat flours. I also did not go the artichoke heart and sundried tomato route, although I think it would be tasty. In fact, the first time I made this, I used spinach and the rest of the home-grown dried tomatoes I had from Jake's sister, Amy. In place of cheese, I experimented with Almond Cheese for the first time. It's a non-dairy cheese that melts and actually tastes pretty good. The kind of almond cheese I bought is from Oregon, so it's local too. I don't really want to get into a bunch of processed cheese substitutes, but for something like quiche, the almond cheese (literally made out of almond paste) works pretty well.

2. You know it's almost summer when you see strawberries around. They have officially arrived at the farmer's market and are worth every penny. I've purchased and eaten two pints since I saw them there last week. Mine have started growing too, but I just don't get that much fruit from my plants, so I'm supplementing with the local farmer's market variety. Besides, as soon as I see a red berry on one of my plants, I eat it immediately. That's probably why I think I don't get much fruit off of them. Hmmm...

3. Finally, you know it's almost summer when you spot a zucchini at the farmer's market! You have no idea how excited I was to see the first signs of local summer squash at the market on Wednesday. My plants are still in the baby stages, so I have a ways to go before I have my own zucchini, but it's only a matter of time. More props to my aforementioned gardening grandpa for the plethora of zucchini recipes he gave me. I can't wait to start getting into those.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sometimes a girl needs some flowers.

Last night, at a friend's pig roast party (yes, I said pig roast), a couple of friends and I were talking about the beautiful peonies that are showing up at the farmer's markets lately and how lovely it is to get a bouquet of flowers. I've been jonesing for some flowers lately, probably because I've been impatiently waiting for my dahlias to sprout. I've finally learned why it would be a good idea to keep a journal of when things where planted and when they sprouted. It seems like my dahlia's are taking a long time to sprout and maybe they're taking just as long as they did last year. But since I didn't write down how long they took to sprout last year, I have nothing to compare it to. Thanks to this blog, I know that this year, I planted my dahlias on the weekend of May 9th/10th, so it's been just about a month now. A few sprouts have come up, but not in the spots where I planted my tubers. I must have a few rogue tubers still in the ground. The other night, when I started worrying about my little tubers, I did some research on the Internet and discovered that it is not good to water dahlia tubers until they sprout because it cools down the soil. Of course, I have been watering my dahlia tubers because I've been treating them like newly sown seeds. Urg! I'm sure I watered them last year and they sprouted fine. So, the bottom line is I've stopped watering my tubers except the ones that have sprouted and now I'm anxiously waiting to see if the tubers that I dug up last winter, saved, and planted really sprout. I hope I did it right! The vegetables are amazing, but sometimes a girl needs some flowers. To hold me over, I splurged and bought a couple of red geraniums, which have brightened up my garden and made me smile.

On another note, I had another domestic Sunday, full of food adventures and garden activities. In keeping with my goal to make a new recipe from Kneadlessly Simple each week, I made Crusty Rosemary and Olive Pot Bread (pot = enamel dutch oven). I harvested the rosemary from my garden yesterday.Saying that I made it today would be an understatement since I actually started making it yesterday morning. The bread turned out amazing, super moist and flavorful.  The recipes in this book really are simple, but Jake and I decided that the success of these recipes is in the scheduling and if you were not really the scheduling type or just not good with time management, these recipes may not be all that easy. 

Jake and I had fresh broccoli from my garden in our dinner tonight. It was pretty tasty. I have to say though, that after growing broccoli for the first time this year, I don't think I'll do it again. For one, they take a long time to grow and bear fruit. They also take up a lot of space since they get so tall and have such big leaves. When you harvest the large head in the center of the plant, you still get several smaller heads that shoot out from the side of the stalk, but it still doesn't seem worth all the time and space they take up. I had to sacrifice two broccoli plants this week because I wanted to use the squares for something more productive. I think I might be partial to the kinds of vegetables you can continue harvesting all season long. There is nothing cooler than picking off the outer leaves of a lettuce or kale plant and having it regenerate brand new leaves for you within the week. 

Finally, I made another batch of those delicious carrot oatmeal cookies upon the persistent request of one of Jake's co-workers. I know that the coconut oil* in the recipe list seems intimidating, but it is more simple than it seems and the recipe as a whole is really easy to put together. If you haven't tried them already, I recommend that you do. They're delightful.

* I realize that coconut oil is not a local ingredient,  but I had to make an exception for this recipe. I've decided that occasionally splurging on a non-local, foody ingredient is ok if it will help me grow as a cook and enrich my palate. I think the coconut oil served that purpose. ;)